In the past, the bulk of my Christmas shopping has usually been done between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve. There’s something about waking up on the day before Christmas in a sheer panic that propels me straight into the open arms of every electronics, sporting goods, and department store within a 10-mile radius. While my family spends the morning sipping coffee, making red velvet cake, and cutting intricate little gift tags, I’ve spent the day with folks I’ve come to recognize as my extended family—a dysfunctional, wild-eyed bunch with a procrastination problem.
This year, however, will be different. Last January my husband and I embarked on an adventure inspired by newspaper coverage of the Buy-Nothing-New Year covenant groups forming across the country. Together with a few friends from work, we agreed to spend an entire year living more simply by not buying anything new, with exceptions made for consumables (food, toilet paper, etc.), replacement parts such as water filters, and intangible services such as a night at the theater. We’ve found the best thrift stores, traded items with friends, and managed to give birth to our first child without ever stepping foot in a Babies “R” Us.
I’ve never been particularly good at sticking to spiritual disciplines, but I’ve come to recognize this year of living simply as a kind of living prayer. When I toss the catalogs that inevitably appear in my mailbox into the recycle bin, I feel spiritually liberated. I’ve come to cherish the feeling of having enough, of not needing or wanting more stuff.
But my spiritual journey met a serious roadblock when it came time to think about what other people might expect from me at Christmas. Just because I had stopped buying new things didn’t mean that the rest of my friends and family would be thrilled to receive thrift-store hand-me-downs. In the back of my mind, December loomed large.